Hollie Cook - Hollie Cook - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Hollie Cook - Hollie Cook

by Charly Richardson Rating:9 Release Date:2011-06-06

You could be mistaken for thinking that punk and reggae's love affair is being resurrected from its late 70s heyday when Bob Marley sang 'Punky Reggae Party', The Clash covered Junior Murvin's 'Police & Thieves', and DJ Don Letts lovingly catered to both markets. For not only is West-Londoner Hollie Cook the daughter of Sex-Pistol drummer Paul Cook; she sings, plays keys and writes for The Slits, and works with Gary Stonadge and Mick Jones in The Rotten Hill Gang. Despite these impeccable punk credentials, Cook has dubbed her debut 'tropical pop'. Yet this cringeworthy tag doesn't do this album justice, for this is nothing less than a fresh and inspired reggae album, something which is woefully rare nowadays.

Despite talking of her admiration for classic 60s girl groups (an effective cover of the Shangri-Las' 'Walking in the Sand' is included) and being described by some in the press as - wince - 'soulful', it is her love of rocksteady (a Motown-influenced late-60s precursor to reggae) singers like Phyllis Dillon and the reggae sub-genre lovers rock which shines through and makes this album so strong and unique. Lovers rock started in the UK in the late 1970s and has continued in some capacity ever since. Typified by Janey Kay's 'Silly Games' or Carroll Thompson's 'I'm So Sorry', it's relaxed vibe and romantic lyrics were largely seen as a reaction to the militant, male-dominated world of Rastafarian-inspired roots reggae.

Cook's high-pitched voice is dreamy and gentle (some might unfairly compare her to Lily Allen), delivering amorous songs largely about (that old classic) love lost and found. This line from 'It's So Different Here' is about as 'deep' as the lyrics get: "Women walk in the shade with water jars, it's so different here, so hot, no phones or cars". Not that it matters, for this is kick-back-and-feel-good lovers rock for the 21st century.

The production by Mike Pelanconi aka Prince Fatty avoids the shiny-pop glint present in some lovers rock and modern reggae, instead immersing the listener in a soundworld which is every bit as wholesome and engrossing as classic Jamaica roots-reggae and dub from the 1970s. Vintage spring echoes, tape echoes, nifty mixing and dub breakdowns are deployed to great effect. Yet his approach is always modest, and somehow sounds both authentic and contemporary. Prince Fatty also utilises fellow soundsystem sideman Horseman who does some fantastic 'toasting' (that uniquely Jamaican rhythmic vocal delivery which is somewhere between speaking and singing and is largely seen as a precursor to rap) on 'Cry', 'Sugar Water (Look At My Face)' and 'Body Beat'.

The band's groove is impeccable, and I wish I had more information about the line-up. However, when I heard that UK reggae stalwart Dennis Bovell was involved (probably on bass), I wasn't the least bit surprised. Bovell himself actually invented the term 'lovers rock', and as a player and producer he was crucial to its development. Coincidentally or not, he also produced for The Slits. Apparently UK soul master Omar and George Dekker from legendary Jamaican group The Pioneers were also involved; evidenced in the spot-on backing vocals which are loyal to the authentic rocksteady style, yet still nod towards those 60s girl groups.

The whole album flows seamlessly. Some might call it samey, I call is stylistically coherent and strong. 'Milk and Honey' created significant buzz for obvious reasons. The bouncy 'That Very Night' has a glorious organ riff, shuffling drums and lots of vocal space. In fact, no tunes disappoint; even the melodic and lyrical weakness of 'Sugar Water (Look at My Face)' is supplemented by a monstrous bassline. Cook and Horseman playfully exchange phrases in the ethereal 'Body Beat', finishing a powerful debut which will no doubt make big waves in both the pop and reggae markets.

Comments (1)

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Not sure if I'd rate this album 9/10 but as ever this is a knowledgeable and well-written review, Charly. It's made me revisit the album.

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